God as Storyteller: Scripture and Self-Understanding
When we meet God in the stories of Scripture, we allow him to reveal to us who he is.
I’m in the process right now of collecting my grandfather’s ghost stories from my mother and my aunt and anyone else I can think of who used to sit at his feet and listen to his deep voice on those dark Maine nights. Those moments formed my childhood. And they made me a storyteller.
What I remember most aren’t the stories, though, but my grandfather himself. The crinkle of his eyes, the roughness of his mechanic’s hands, the way he would slow down and lower his voice as he drove us past that haunted lake, just to make sure we felt the chill. There was a part of him in every word he said, and maybe that’s why I want to gather up those stories and hold them close. I don’t want to forget them — because I don’t want to forget him.
What do my grandfather’s ghost stories have to do with Sacred Scripture? To explain that, I need to tell you one more story.
We recorded Father John Bayer’s interview for our series The Quest in the periodicals room of the Cowan-Blakley Library here at the University of Dallas. My colleague Dr. Michael West had the lead on this interview, so I was sitting in a mid-century modern chair behind the cameras, jotting down follow-up questions in a notebook and making sure I liked the way the shot was framed. But when Father Bayer started explaining that God, as both the Author of Scripture and the Author of our being, has each and every one of us in mind in every single Word, I forgot everything else. It’s not an exaggeration when I tell you that I could hardly breathe.
Maybe it’s because I’m a storyteller that this moment hit me so hard. But I think, even more than that, it’s because I needed to realize how much I had taken Scripture for granted.
I’m not sure if it’s a well-deserved criticism or not that Catholics have a less-than-optimal relationship with the Bible and that our knowledge of Scripture tends to be woefully thin. We hear the readings from the lectern every Sunday, and perhaps that’s the sum total of our encounters with the Word of God for the week. Or perhaps we have a particular verse or two that we find comforting, or we might find a particular parable of Jesus especially relevant to something we’re struggling with at the moment. But how often do we sit with Scripture and allow it to really seep into our souls, rather than just skip off the surface of our attention like a stone skimmed across a lake?
The truth is that we know what to do with stories on an instinctual and visceral level. The desire to imitate is in us from the beginning. And as Lisa Cron notes in her book Wired for Story, “Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it — a feat no other species can lay claim to…. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally.” As Father Bayer says, we all know what it’s like to be moved by a work of literature. There’s no mystery here.
But how often do we remind ourselves that the Scriptures are stories too? How often do we remember that we are the children of a storytelling God, and that reading the Scriptures is our chance to sit at his feet and listen to him tell us a story?
Have we ever reflected on how much of himself we encounter in the telling? Have we ever reflected on how much of ourselves we encounter in the telling?
When we meet God in the stories of Scripture, we allow him to reveal to us who he is. Drama, as Aristotle says, is the representation of “people in action.” The Scriptures show us not just people in action, but God himself. And God isn’t just a “character” in the stories — he is the storyteller too. If listening to my grandfather’s stories brought me closer to him and helped me to love him even more — how much more so with God?
Lisa Cron’s work on how story functions shows us that, in a very real way, story is what allowed the human species to survive because it teaches us something. Stories allow us to forecast possibilities, as she notes, and to prepare for them. And we are all perhaps familiar with the adage that “he who is ignorant of history is doomed to repeat it.” Stories — whether fantastical or historical — are the second most powerful and effective way we have for developing prudential judgment, right behind personal experience itself.
In “The Appointed Task,” Episode 2 of The Quest, Father Bayer encourages us to allow our stories to be shaped by the stories of Scripture. He notes that there are many saints who discovered their purpose in life through a particular verse of Scripture, but, even if our call is not so clear, these stories help us to better understand our relationship with God — both personally and as the people of God.
God’s action in and through history didn’t end with the final page of the Book of Revelation. We are a part of this story, and every single one of us has an irreplaceable and unrepeatable part to play. We have been created and chosen for this moment in time by the Author of all things. So maybe the next time we feel unsure or afraid, we should return to his feet and listen to him tell us a story.
The Quest will air March 27-31 at 10pm CT on EWTN.